A. C. No. 4058 March 12, 1998
BENGUET ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE, INC. Complainant, vs. ATTY. ERNESTO B. FLORES, Respondent.
The profession of law exacts the highest standards from its members and brooks no violation of its code of conduct. Accordingly, a lawyer who trifles with judicial processes, engages in forum shopping and blatantly lies in his pleadings must be sanctioned.
This is an administrative complaint against Atty. Ernesto Flores filed by Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BENECO) before this Court on July 5, 1993, seeking his removal or suspension from the bar for forum shopping, which amounted to "grave misconduct, . . . unduly delaying the administration of justice, and violating with impunity his oath of office and applicable laws and jurisprudence." 1
After the respondent submitted his Comment, dated August 21, 1993, we referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on September 27, 1993 for investigation, report and recommendation. On August 15, 1997, we received a resolution from the IBP Board of Governors, finding respondent guilty of violating Canons 10 and 12 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and recommending his suspension from the practice of law for a period of six months, viz:
Because the parties 3 agreed to dispense with the presentation of testimonial evidence, the case was submitted for resolution on the basis of their documentary evidence. As found by Investigating Commissioner Plaridel C. Jose, the facts are as follows:
Recommendation of the IBP
As noted earlier, Investigating Commissioner Plaridel C. Jose recommended, and the IBP Board of Governors concurred, that respondent be suspended from the bar for six months for:
1. Falsehood, for stating in his comment before this Court that the order of the RTC dismissing the complaint in Civil Case No. 2738-R was not appealed on time
2. Failure to comply with Supreme Court Circular No. 28-91 on forum shopping
Commissioner Jose ratiocinated:
This Court's Ruling
We adopt and affirm the recommendation of the IBP suspending the respondent from the bar, but we increase the period from six (6) months to one (1) year and six (6) months.
Circular No. 28-91, 5 dated September 4, 1991 which took effect on January 1, 1992, requires a certificate of non-forum shopping to be attached to petitions filed before this Court and the Court of Appeals. This circular was revised on February 8, 1994. The IBP found that the respondent had violated it, because the complaint he filed before the RTC of Baguio City "lack[ed] the certification required by Supreme Court Circular No. 28-91." 6
We distinguish. Respondent's failure to attach the said certificate cannot be deemed a violation of the aforementioned circular, because the said requirement applied only to petitions filed with this Court and the Court of Appeals. 7 Likewise inapplicable is Administrative Circular No. 04-94 dated February 8, 1994 which extended the requirement of a certificate of non-forum shopping to all initiatory pleadings filed in all courts and quasi-judicial agencies other than this Court and the Court of Appeals. Circular No. 04-94 became effective only on April 1, 1994, but the assailed complaint for injunction was filed on March 18, 1993, and the petition for the constitution of a family home was instituted on May 26, 1993.
Be that as it may, respondent is still guilty of forum shopping. In Chemphil Export and Import Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, 8 this Court declared that "(t)he rule against forum shopping has long been established and subsequent circulars 9 of this Court merely formalized the prohibition and provided the appropriate penalties against transgressors." The prohibition is found in Section 1(e) of Rule 16 and Section 4 of Rule 2 of the 1964 Rules of Court, which provide:
The prohibition is also contained in Circular No. 28-91. This circular did not only require that a certification of non-forum shopping be attached to the petitions filed before this Court or the Court of Appeals; it also decreed that forum shopping constituted direct contempt of court and could subject the offending lawyer to disciplinary action. The third paragraph thereof reads:
The foregoing were substantially reproduced in Revised Circular No. 28-91 12 and Administrative Circular No. 04-94. 13
In a long line of cases, this Court has held that forum shopping exists when, as a result of an adverse opinion in one forum, a party seeks a favorable opinion (other than by appeal or certiorari) in another, 14 or when he institutes two or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause, on the gamble that one or the other court would make a favorable disposition. 15 The most important factor in determining the existence of forum shopping is the "vexation caused the courts and parties-litigants by a party who asks different courts to rule on the same or related causes or grant the same or substantially the same reliefs." 16
After this Court rendered its Decision 17 in Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc. vs. National Labor Relations Commission, et al. 18 and upon motion of BENECO, Labor Arbiter Irenarco R. Rimando issued a writ of execution 19 ordering the clerk of court and ex officio city sheriff of the Municipal Trial Court of Baguio City to levy on and sell at public auction personal and real property of the members of the Board of Directors of BENECO.
On March 18, 1993, Respondent Flores, acting as counsel for BENECO Board Members Victor Laoyan, Nicasio Aliping, Lorenzo Pilando and Abundio Awal, filed with the RTC an injunction suit praying for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) "to preserve the status quo as now obtaining between the parties," as well as a writ of preliminary preventive injunction ordering the clerk of court and the ex officio city sheriff of the MTC of Baguio to "cease and desist from enforcing by execution and levy the writ of execution from the NLRC-CAR, pending resolution of the main action raised in court." 20
When this injunction case was dismissed, Respondent Flores filed with another branch of the RTC two identical but separate actions both entitled "Judicial Declaration of Family Home Constituted, ope lege, Exempt from Levy and Execution; with Damages, etc.," docketed as Civil Case Nos. 93-F-0414 and 93-F-0415. 21 The said complaints were supplemented by an "Urgent Motion Ex Parte" 22 which prayed for an order to temporarily restrain Sheriff Wilfredo V. Mendez from proceeding with the auction sale of plaintiffs' property "to avoid rendering ineffectual and functus [oficio] any judgment of the court later in this [sic] cases, until further determined by the court."
Civil Case Nos. 93-F-0414 and 93-F-0415 are groundless suits. Modequillo vs. Breva, 23 reiterated in Manacop vs. Court of Appeals, 24 shows the frivolity of these proceedings:
Adhering to the Court's declaration in said cases, the subject properties are deemed constituted as family homes by operation of law under Article 153 of the Family Code.
The suits for the constitution of a family home were not only frivolous and unnecessary; they were clearly asking for reliefs identical to the prayer previously dismissed by another branch of the RTC, i.e, to forestall the execution of a final judgment of the labor arbiter. That they were filed ostensibly for the judicial declaration of a family home was a mere smoke screen; in essence, their real objective was to restrain or delay the enforcement of the writ of execution. In his deliberate attempt to obtain the same relief in two different courts, Respondent Flores was obviously shopping for a "friendly" forum which would capitulate to his improvident plea for an injunction and was thereby trifling with the judicial process. 25
We remind the respondent that, under the Code of Professional Responsibility, 26 he had a duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice. 27 The Code also enjoins him from unduly delaying a case by impeding the execution of a judgment or by misusing court processes. 28
In consonance with Millare vs. Montero 29 and Garcia vs. Francisco, 30 respondent should be suspended from the practice of law for one year. In Millare, the respondent filed with different courts a total of six appeals, complaints and petitions which frustrated and delayed the execution of a final judgment. Holding that "respondent 'made a mockery of the judicial processes' and disregarded canons of professional ethics in intentionally frustrating the rights of a litigant in whose favor a judgment in the case was rendered [and], thus, 'abused procedural rules to defeat the ends of substantial justice,'" 31 this Court suspended the respondent from the practice of law for one year.
In Garcia, the respondent was also suspended for one year from the practice of law, for violating the proscription against forum shopping. This Court held that "he deserve[d] to be sanctioned, not only as a punishment for his misconduct but also as a warning to other lawyers who may be influenced by his example." 32
The investigating commissioner also held respondent liable for committing a falsehood because, in this administrative case, he stated in his comment that he had not "perfected an appeal on the dismissal" of his petition for injunction. In his said comment, the respondent stated:
The indelible fact, however, is that respondent did file an appeal which was perfected later on. The original records of the injunction suit had been transmitted to the appellate court. 34 Moreover, the Court of Appeals issued a resolution dismissing the appeal. 35 Thus, in denying that he had appealed the decision of the RTC, respondent was making a false statement.
Respondent argues that the withdrawal of his appeal means that no appeal was made under Section 2 of Rule 50 of the Rules of Court. The pertinent provisions of Rule 50 36 read:
Respondent's explanation misses the point. True, he withdrew his appeal. But it is likewise true that he had actually filed an appeal, and that this was perfected. False then is his statement that no appeal was perfected in the injunction suit. Worse, he made the statement before this Court in order to exculpate himself, though in vain, from the charge of forum shopping.
A lawyer must be a disciple of truth. Under the Code of Professional Responsibility, he owes candor, fairness and good faith to the courts. 37 He shall neither do any falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any. He also has a duty not to mislead or allow the courts to be misled by any artifice. 38
For this offense, we suspend the respondent from the practice of law for another year. True, in Ordonio vs. Eduarte, 39 Porac Trucking, Inc., vs. Court of Appeals 40 and Erectors, Inc. vs. NLRC, 41 we imposed a suspension of only six months for a similar malfeasance. But in Flores' case, his falsehood is aggravated by its brazenness, for it was committed in an attempt, vain as it was, to cover up his forum shopping.
Before we close, we note that this simple case was referred to the IBP on September 27, 1993. It was deemed submitted for resolution per the investigating commissioner's order dated May 10, 1995. However, the investigating commissioner submitted his report only on May 5, 1997. Moreover, the IBP transmitted its recommendation to the Court only through a letter dated July 31, 1997, which was received by the Office of the Bar Confidant on August 15, 1997. Why it took the IBP almost four years to finish its investigation of the case and over two years from the date the parties filed their last pleadings to resolve it escapes us. After all, the case did not require any trial-type investigation, and the parties submitted only documentary evidence to prove or rebut their respective cases. Thus, we find it opportune to urge the IBP to hasten the disposition of administrative cases and to remind it that this Court gives it only ninety days to finish its investigation, report and recommendation. Should it require more time, it should file with the Court a request for extension, giving the reason for such request.
WHEREFORE, for trifling with judicial processes by resorting to forum shopping, Respondent Ernesto B. Flores is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of ONE (1) YEAR and, for violating his oath and the Canon of Professional Responsibility to do no falsehood, he is SUSPENDED for another period of ONE (1) YEAR, resulting in a total period of TWO (2) YEARS, effective upon finality of this Decision. He is WARNED that a repetition of a similar misconduct will be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of this Decision be included in his files which are with the Office of the Bar Confidant, and circularized to all courts and to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Narvasa, C.J., Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Martinez, Quisumbing and Purisima, JJ., concur.
18 Composed of (1) Victor Laoyan, (2) Nicasio Aliping, (3) Abundio Awal, (4) Antonio Sudang Pan, and (5) Lorenzo Pilando.
19 Writ of Execution, pp. 1-7; records, Vol. 1, pp. 8-14.
20 Complaint for Injunction, p. 8; records, Vol. 1, p. 22.
21 Records, Vol. 1, pp. 26-37. Emphasis found in the original.
22 Records, Vol. 1, pp. 44-45.
23 185 SCRA 765, 770-771, May 31, 1990; per Gancayco, J.
24 215 SCRA 773, 781-782, November 13, 1992.
25 See First Philippine International Bank vs. Court of Appeals, 252 SCRA 259, 283, January 24, 1996; Millare vs. Montero, 246 SCRA 1, 8, July 13, 1995; and Limpin, Jr. vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 161 SCRA 83, 98, May 5, 1988.
26 Promulgated by the Supreme Court on June 21, 1988.
27 Canon 12.
28 Rule 12.04 of Canon 12, Code of Professional Responsibility.
29 246 SCRA 1, July 13, 1995.
30 220 SCRA 512, March 30, 1993.
31 246 SCRA 1, 9, July 13, 1995 per Quiason, J..
32 220 SCRA 512, 516, March 30, 1993, per curiam.
33 Comment, pp. 2, 7 and 9; records, Vol. 1, pp. 53, 58 and 60.
34 The transmittal letter reads:
Page in Record
xxx xxx xxx
35 It reads:
xxx xxx xxx
36 This was prior to the effectivity of the 1997 amendments to the Rules of Court.
37 Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
38 Rule 10.01 of Canon 10, Code of Professional Responsibility.
39 207 SCRA 229, March 16, 1992.
40 202 SCRA 674, October 15, 1991.
41 166 SCRA 728, October 28, 1988.
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